Saturday, June 28, 2008

100 years and 100 metres

May 19 was the 100 birthday of Percy Williams, the Vancouver-born Olympian who won two gold medals at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics.

Just 19 years old, Williams won gold in the 100 and 200 metre races, the premier track and field events.

Williams credited his coach Bob Granger for his success, he was discovered by Granger during a high school track meet,

"Whatever I've done was through my coach, Bob Granger. Granger was everything, " Williams was quoted in Edward S. Sears' book Running Through the Ages.

Sports historian Bill McNulty says Granger was a mastermind, "He knew how far he could push Percy without breaking him."

Williams accomplishments were unexpected because he had suffered rheumatic fever which damaged his heart and was advised not exert himself or even get excited.

Further, his build was slight, less that 170cm and 50kg, not at all what an athlete was expected to be at the time.

Statisticians in Amsterdam, at the 1928 games disagreed, however.

All the competitors at the games were measured and Williams was found to have ideal build for an Olympic competitor.

"Percy should have won," McNulty explained, "when they were doing the anthropometric measurements and other scientific measurements of the day they found he was the right body type to win and he was the ideal."

Williams was given a hero's welcome on his return to Vancouver, including a parade, a Graham-Paige coupe and a $14, 000 trust account for his education.

Believing his Olympic wins were flukes, in 1929 Williams was invited to join in a series of races against the best available American competitors where he won 19 of 21 races.

Williams won the 100 yd race in spite of a pulled muscle at the inaugural British Empire Games, later to become the Commonwealth Games, in Halifax in 1930.

Although still competitive for a time, Williams' injury shortened his athletic career, at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles he was disqualified in the semifinals.

Williams returned to Vancouver to sell insurance and led a reclusive, private life.

In later life, seeing the accolades, financial rewards, and opportunities given athletes, Williams believed he was under-appreciated, and his accomplishments were not properly recognized.

"He is one of the greatest Olympic athletes Canada has ever produced," Jason Beck, curator at the BC Sports Hall of Fame said.

Abandoned by his father Fred at age 11, Williams did not marry, living with his mother until her death in 1977.

In 1980, he became a member of the Order of Canada.

Mourning the loss of his mother, suffering arthritis, Williams committed suicide in 1982.

A statue to his memory sits at BC Place, outside the BC Sports Hall of Fame.

Related Links
BC Sports Hall of Fame
Amsterdam Olympics [IOC]
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